Standards-Based Reforms

Nationally and in Ohio, we press for the full suite of standards-based reforms across the academic curriculum and throughout the K–12 system, including (but not limited to) careful implementation of the Common Core standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics as well as rigorous, aligned state assessments and forceful accountability mechanisms at every level.

Resources:

Our many standards-based blog posts are listed below.


Fordham’s experts on standards-based reforms:


You have no doubt seen numerous media stories regarding the recent release of school report card data in Ohio. As supporters of a robust accountability system, we urge you to pay attention to the stories and the ongoing discussion. The success of our public schools (charter and district) in doing the vital work with which they are entrusted must be assessed, reported, and analyzed. Schools which evidence success should be lauded, emulated, and expanded to reach as many students as possible. Schools which struggle in any area should be highlighted and helped to improve if possible.

None of these things can happen without robust data and clear-eyed analysis.

Fordham has worked for many years to be a source of unbiased analysis, research, and commentary on the state’s annual report card data. With Ohio’s most recent data release having occurred in mid-September, we have published the following:

The Ohio Department of Education is expected to release report cards for the 2016-17 school year by the end of this week. Like an annual checkup with a physician, these report cards offer valuable information on the academic health of Buckeye schools and students.

As many Ohioans know, state leaders have overhauled the assessment and report card system in recent years. To their credit, they’ve implemented more demanding state exams that now offer a clearer picture of student proficiency than under former assessments. The report cards themselves are much different from those in years past; they now include various A-F components that consider not only traditional measures like proficiency and graduation rates, but also pupils’ growth over time and their readiness for college or career. While Ohio legislators still need to do considerable work to help report cards function properly—we’ll be releasing several recommendations for tweaking them next month—the stability in state assessment policies and on key pieces of the school grading system is praiseworthy.

What are we keeping an eye out for when report cards drop? Here are three things:

Will the use of multi-year averages help to stabilize value-added ratings?

In recent years, one of...

As part of the most recent state budget, Ohio lawmakers created alternative graduation pathways for the class of 2018 in response to widespread fears on the part of district administrators that too many students would fail to pass the seven End Of Course (EOC) tests that are administered during high school in the four core subjects.

We at Fordham strongly opposed this move because we believe it will hurt students in the long run. We weren’t the only ones who questioned it. Nevertheless, the alternative pathways became law. Recently, State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria indicated that objections such as ours were not well founded.  Specifically, he told reporters:

The students who aren’t going to do well in college and in the workforce are those who don’t take their education seriously and a GPA increasingly both in research and in practice has been shown to be a far better indicator of a student’s readiness for college success and frankly for workforce success than any standardized test.

Whether, when, and how GPAs may be a better indicator of readiness than standardized tests is a subject for a different day. Let’s focus instead on the Superintendent’s assertion...

Confronted with the paradox of a simultaneous rise in high school graduation and college remediation rates, researchers from The Alliance for Excellent Education examined diploma pathways across the country for evidence as to how well they match college or career expectations. They found that far too many students leave high school with diplomas that do not signal preparedness for what comes next.

The Alliance’s new report looked at all fifty states and the District of Columbia and found that there were 98 different pathways to diplomas for the Class of 2014. Slightly less than half were deemed sufficient to prepare students for college or careers (CCR diploma pathways). While college and career ready can be defined in a number of ways, the Alliance’s criteria for a CCR diploma are: 1) Any pathway that requires students to complete four years of grade-level ELA, three years of math through Algebra II or Integrated Math III; and 2) Any pathways promulgated by state institutions of higher education that fully align with admissions requirements into those institutions. All of their analyses follow from these requisites.

The most frequent reason for a rating of “non-CCR” for a diploma pathway was a mismatch between...

Last month, several urban Ohio school districts began sounding alarms over Ohio’s third-grade reading guarantee—a policy put in place several years ago that requires students who don’t reach reading proficiency by the end of grade three to be held back—fearful that a much larger number of their third graders won’t meet the requirements for promotion. The policy was put in place for good reasons; research shows that students who can’t read by third grade often fall behind in other skills, like writing, and are at a high risk of failure for the rest of their schooling careers. In addition, another brand-new research study found that retaining students can boost their high school readiness years later.

Here’s what’s happening: Students who fall short on Ohio’s state reading test can take and pass “alternative” assessments from national test vendors (e.g., NWEA MAP and Terra Nova) that in the past have been arguably easier than state tests (judging by the large number of students being promoted based upon passage of alternative tests). However, those test vendors recently set higher targets—and now an increasing number of students are missing the alternate bar. Yet rather than taking responsibility for Ohio’s youngest students’ dismal...

At the end of June, Governor John Kasich vetoed a provision in the state budget bill that would have changed school grading calculations for purposes of evaluating the performance of Ohio’s charter school sponsors. Keep in mind that sponsors—as they should be—are evaluated in part on the basis of how well the charter schools in their portfolios are doing on state report card metrics. At issue here was the weight that the Ohio Department of Education places on student growth—or value added—relative to other measures. The General Assembly, seemingly unhappy with the current, bureaucratically derived framework for sponsor evaluations, had wanted to increase the weight on student growth from 20 to 60 percent. That change would have applied to the “summative” (or “overall”) A-F grades of charter schools when applied to the evaluation of their sponsors.[1]  

Transitioning sponsors towards a growth-centered system was a positive move by the legislature, and it’s disappointing that the governor vetoed the provision. Growth measures consider individual students’ academic performance over time and gauge a school’s impact on student achievement. They differ from status measures, such as proficiency rates, which are “snapshots” of student performance at a point...

When I was growing up, “fake news” was the black-and-white photograph of the infamous bat child. Staring back at me in the supermarket check-out line, it was easy to spot—the line demarcating fiction from reality was as recognizable as the red and yellow tabloid headlines. Nowadays, fake news, defined by Wikipedia as “written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention,” is rampant, flourishing in social media like algae in warm lake water. It’s also harder to pinpoint, having taken on so many esoteric forms beyond the blatantly untrue or “good-old fashioned viral emails” of years past. (You know it’s bad when the ignorance of yesteryear brings on nostalgia.)

Today’s fake news is insidious and creeping—like an invasive weed posing as a hearty, colorful garden plant before wilting and seeding itself in the wind to multiply its damage. The most dangerous form isn’t the outright lie. It’s the distortion of fact, the misrepresentation, the half-truth. News isn’t all that’s “fake” nowadays. Too many public policy proposals also...

Back in February, U.S. News and World Report named Massachusetts the top state in its Best States rankings. Though the Bay State has plenty else going for it, part of its triumph is based on educational success—and on that dimension it’s no secret that Massachusetts students have recently excelled on both the national and international stages.

Perhaps, therefore, we ought not be too surprised that one of Ohio’s latest Common Core repeal attempts would replace those “national” standards with Massachusetts’s pre-2010 academic content standards. The bill’s sponsor has argued that the Bay State’s old standards are in Ohio’s current best interest because, while teaching them, Massachusetts moved from “modestly performing” to best in class. In recent testimony, he called them “excellent” and “proven” and argued that this change is necessary because Ohio’s education ranking has “plummeted” (which, for the record, is a misunderstanding of the data). The implication is that by adopting Massachusetts’ old standards, Ohio will place itself on the road to dominating the education sphere.

But is that true? Were Ohio to adopt the old Massachusetts standards, can we expect Massachusetts-style academic results?

Brief but apt digression: let’s turn...

In politics as of late, there’s been a lot of talk about “going nuclear” in order to accomplish a goal. Ohio now has its own version of scorched earth policy in the form of House Bill 176, a wide-ranging education proposal that, if enacted, would do away with standards and accountability as we know it.

Many of its provisions—namely ditching Ohio’s Learning Standards for Massachusetts’ pre-2010 standards and ditching Ohio’s assessments for Iowa’s pre-2010 assessments—appeared in House Bill 212 back in 2015. That legislation did not move through the General Assembly, but one of its key proponents is at it again. Unfortunately, the new version is an even bigger nightmare than its predecessor.

In a separate piece, I’ll take a deeper look at why using Massachusetts standards and Iowa assessments are two steps in the wrong direction. But for now, let’s take a look at a few of the other changes HB 176 is trying to make and why they’re not in Ohio’s best interest.

Eliminating graduation requirements

Ohio has been abuzz with talk about graduation requirements and how to ensure that students are being held to high—but not ridiculously high—expectations. HB 176...

Note: This blog originally appeared in a slightly different form as a guest commentary in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

The State Board of Education recently advised the legislature to make changes to Ohio’s new and more rigorous graduation requirements amid concerns from school people about lower graduation rates. The board’s recommendations, based on a workgroup convened by the board, are out, and they’re deeply disquieting. Put into practice, they’d break the repeated promise of policy makers to raise expectations for Ohio’s 1.7 million students.

Currently, students in the class of 2018 and beyond have three paths to a diploma. They may: 1) achieve a passing cumulative score on seven end-of-course (EOC) exams in the four core subjects of math, English, social studies, and science; 2) achieve a “remediation-free” ACT or SAT score; or 3) complete career and technical education requirements that include earning an industry recognized credential. These are stronger than the state’s old graduation standards, which included the antiquated, middle-school level Ohio Graduation Tests (OGT) and are a key part of the Buckeye State’s robust effort to ensure that students leave high school ready to succeed in college or start a career.

Unfortunately, what the board suggests...

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